The first step in starting your homesteading journey (aside from getting pre-approved for a loan) is to take a look around. My boyfriend and I saw this property the day it came on the market. Both of us had been combing the public real estate listings on Zillow (only the best website EVER) to find a good amount of acreage for a reasonable price that was close enough to his place of work. Not surprisingly, the search results were meager. Everything was either out of our price range or too far away from his workplace to merit a visit. One fateful morning as I was doing my daily search of Zillow (seriously it’s like crack, even when you are not in the home buying mood) I stumbled across this gorgeous property. It had a huge morton building, several well kept out buildings, a lean-to for animals, and five beautiful acres. Oh, and of course a house!
Can you tell the house was the last thing we cared about? Well as it turns out, that was the ticket to being able to afford this property. The house is a ranch style home built in the late 50s when not a lot of building codes were in effect, so needless to say, the house is a little confused. With 3 small bedrooms, only 1.5 baths, outdated windows, very old carpet, and the tiniest kitchen the world has ever seen, I’m sure that was what kept the price down. Regardless, all my boyfriend and I cared about was the land and the pristine outbuildings.
If you want to begin your homesteading journey and don’t have $350,000+ to spend, I think the ticket is to not be picky about the house. Of course you want a house that has a good roof and working utilities, but you need to see past the scuffs and dings. It’s crazy to me how many people walk away from an incredible deal because they can’t bring themselves to replace the flooring and knock down a few walls (more on that later).
The property is a long skinny rectangular plot. This layout makes the land feel like more than 5 ares because you have minimal exposure to the road you live on and the property stretches back away from the road quite a ways. Lots of privacy! The previous owner did a great job with the placement of outbuildings and fencing, which is giving me a head start on my homesteading journey. See below for the land as it right now.
There are a total of six out buildings. As you can see the Morton building is by far the biggest, but that is my boyfriend’s lair. With three dirt bikes and two motorcycles, believe me, he needs it. He has been dreaming of a workshop like this for years (much like I have been dreaming of a chicken coop!).
The next biggest building in size is the animal lean-to. The previous owners had horses, so there is crushed limestone as well as buried slab limestone underneath the building. Limestone is a wonderful material to use underfoot for animals as it neutralizes smells by absorbing wetness quickly. There are two large stalls, hay feeders, and hay bale storage. Perfect for goats or piggies!
This is my eventual plan. We are going to start with pigs first. From what I’ve researched, they require a lot less supervision and also give back much more in terms of meat than goats. We have a lot of wild brush that borders the edge of our property which would be conducive to having goats, but we also have a lot of forested spots which would be great for pigs. I have much more to learn about goats in terms of breeding, milking, soap making, etc. before I commit. Pigs you just need to feed, check the perimeter of their fence, and muck every once in a while. Also, pigs are a five month(ish) commitment in terms of raising them to slaughter, and goats can be a longer term commitment. So for now pigs are the winner! I plan on getting two to start for the first round. Paul and I ate through our half pig from Bashaw Valley Farms in less than five months, so I think two would get us through the year nicely.
Next in the line up is garden shed #1. It has a screened in porch, a barn cat door, and a good amount of storage for things like animal feed, extra fencing materials, and hoses. Big drum roll … this shed will be used primarily for storage - seeds, garden tools, mucking tools, chicken feed, and the like.
Then there is garden shed #2. This trusty building was the previous previous owner’s llama building. No joke, he had llamas and they lived in that building. Llama-rama! While we won’t be having llamas, it will be used most likely for storing our garden tractor and tractor pulls.
Up next in the outbuilding line up is the warming house. The previous owner made a mobile warming house that he would drag across the road to a frozen pond in the winter so his kids could ice skate. Adorable. Now the only thing this building will warm up in my future chickens. Even more adorable? Maybe not… The great thing about this building is it’s the perfect size for six hens. It even has knee high benches that we can divide up for nesting boxes. My goal is to allow the chickens to free range on fenced in portions of the property. Chickens naturally eat the bugs, seeds, and whatever else they can find on/in the ground. Their feces are naturally high in nitrogen, which makes for an excellent fertilizer for the lawn in healthy doses.
The last outbuilding is the little garbage shed right across from the garage. This building we will use to keep our recycling, compost, and with some effort- very little to no garbage.
HOMESTEADING GOALS FOR 2016
Now let’s talk goals for 2016. This is what I would love to see by the end of 2016 on the land.
First I want to plant a butt load more maple trees, because MAPLE SYRUP. They also grow like weeds and will continually provide good forested area for the pigs to root and forage.
I also want to plant a handful of Dustan Chestnut trees. Before doing my research, tsk tsk Kelsey, I thought that oak trees would be the best thing to plant so that acorns would be in abundance for the pigs and chickens to eat. It turns out that oaks aren’t all they cracked up to be in terms of fruit yield. Did you know that oaks typically only produce acorns every three to five years?! I didn’t! It also can take them over a decade to reach a point in their growth where they even begin producing acorns. If I planted oaks today, I would be nearly 40 before there were acorns on the ground. No thanks. So after doing some research I discovered the coveted chestnut tree. They can produce fruit after just three years and then they bear chestnuts every single year. They also have a better nutritional makeup suited for pigs and chickens - 10% protein compared to acorn’s 6% - 8%. Also chestnut finished pork is serious business in the foodie world. All I have to say is NOM NOM NOM.
Second, I’m going to move the chicken coop farther away from the house because even though we won’t have roosters, chickens can be loud. I have grown extremely fond of the Silver Laced Wyandotte breed. They are extremely good egg layers. While most hens lay about 200 eggs per year, these little ladies pop out 240 eggs per year on average! With Paul's 6'3" appetite, we'll need six or seven hens to keep our breakfast well rounded. The breed is as docile as it is beautiful, so their personalities won't ere on the side of diva (hopefully). We have enough diva for this household with our cat, Kiki. I mean look at her.
She's out of control.
I’ll also add in a fenced in area around the coop to keep them contained during the winter months and when Paul is dirt biking. I don’t think chickens will keep their cool when the dirt bike is ripping around in the back part of the property…
Which reminds me, this is Paul’s projected plan for the property…
I laughed out loud when he sent me this. If you can't make it out, the red line depicted above is the Dirt Bike Track. Yup. We’ve struck a compromise though. I have claim to the front half of the land to do with as I please. The back half is dirt bike territory and any plants that can withstand it, i.e. the additional maple trees.
Third, we are going to cover up the gravel limestone with a couple feet of fertile top soil and put in a fenced in veggie garden. Why fenced in? Well chickens don’t give a flying poop if those veggies are for you, they will EAT THEM ALL if you let them. By having that area around the garden well fenced in, I can let the chickens free range without having to worry about the veggies. Granted I will let them in once the veggies are done for the season so they can do their chicken thing and fertilize the garden soil.
Fourth, we are going to reinstall hog paneling around the northern perimeter of the property. The fencing now is rusted and has plenty of holes for chicken-massacring weasels and coyotes to get in. NO THANK YOU NATURE.
Fifth, we will convert the animal lean-to over into our piggie haven. Pigs don’t need much honestly in terms of shelter, just a place to keep dry and warm if the weather is raging. We will bring the feeders down a few feet since they are at horse-height now, and that’s basically it. The size of the inner pasture is plenty big for two pigs over the course of five to six months. I plan on also supplementing their diet with kitchen scraps as well as any restaurants willing to donate food scraps, oh - and chestnuts!
After we get done with the first set of pigs I plan on planting a cover crop that will allow the next batch of pigs to have a higher quality forage. Some of the common crucifers grown for people food double as fantastic cover crops. Turnips, mustards, and kale even have a detoxifying effect on the soil, ridding it of fungal diseases and parasites. Since they are fast-growing crops, they will make excellent forage for chickens and pigs. I would plant them in early spring so that when the pigs come mid June there will be plenty to go around.
As for the breed, the American Guinea Hog is my go-to hands down. These gentle small sized piggies are bred to forage, i.e. dig and eat what they find, are comfortable in the southeastern Wisconsin climate, and don’t mind chickens if there was any accidental pasture mingling. I even found a heritage breeder close by that I am definitely going to go with when we are ready to buy.
LONG TERM GOALS FOR THE HOMESTEAD
Let’s talk big picture! Long term, there might be some cattle if I can convince Paul. I’d love to have two Dexter hefers. Dexters are a small sized heritage breed that are extremely docile and can be kept for dairy as well as beef. I love small and versatile!
I most definitely want honeybees, but there is a hitch. I plan on planting a cover crop conducive to honey bees in as many open areas as I possibly can, but there are some corn fields behind us and an apple orchard to the north. Depending on these farmers’ use of chemicals, the bees could potentially be killed after one season. I need to introduce myself to those land owners and see if honeybees are a wise addition. There is some serious technological advances in beekeeping with the invention of the FlowHive, and I definitely will be purchasing this nifty contraption once I have some concrete information about the surrounding land owners.
Having another apple tree would be amazing, as well as some pear or peach trees. First I need to experience the amount of work with a full scale veggie garden and see if I want to add fruit preservation to the list of responsibilities. With raspberries surrounding the property, we might feel we are getting more than our fair share of seasonal fruit. We shall see…
I even created a spreadsheet budget for the long term plan and it rakes in at about $5000 if we were to go hog wild and do everything we wanted within the year. Not too shabby considering you are providing yourself all the veggies, meat, syrup, and honey you would need for at least 1.5 years.
So that is my overarching plan for 2016 and beyond. In my next post I walk you through our home renovation plan as well as some as-is photos of the interior. In future posts I'll provide you with our dream renovation and budget, keeping in mind a low carbon footprint and environmental foresight. I may have also learned how to use Sketchup, Fixer Upper Style. Get ready for a 3D model and all!
Thanks for stopping by Green Willow Homestead! From chicken rearing to orchard planting, we've got our hands full and we love sharing what we've learned along the way. Follow along as we strive to live a toxin-free life and turn these five acres from just property to a fully functioning small-scale homestead.
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